Peter Obi stirred an outpour of hope and creativity during the Nigerian elections. Agwu Enekwachi looks at some of the artworks made to reflect that spirit.
The ongoing general election in Nigeria is the seventh since the country’s return to democracy in 1999 after years of military rule. Marked by large rallies in stadiums and squares, election campaigns are often impressive. They involve supporters in their thousands wearing colorful shirts, uniforms, and caps with inscriptions that proclaim party slogans. They sing innovative party anthems and other songs. In recent years, young Nigerians in particular have become more vocal, using social media as a rallying tool, creating memes, jests, cartoons, drawings, and paintings to amplify their voices. This trend was already evident during the EndSARS protests in October 2020, which were about young people strongly asking for change.
Like an elixir, Peter Obi’s messages restored hope and captured the imagination of those hoping for a better society while aligning with young people’s visions of a new political order that could bring change to their country. Both local and foreign media took note as Obi’s online and offline popularity soared. He rose to the top in most polls organized by researchers and the media. A multitude of portraits have made to advance his political aspirations and depict their makers’ love of his character, competence, and capacities. A former governor of Anambra State in South-Eastern Nigeria, Obi’s stewardship is still judged as unblemished. Many citizens have bought into his candidacy for that reason. A cartoon by Mike Asukwo points to the type of scrutiny Obi has undergone at the hands of the media and the established political parties. This in no small measure contributed to winning many people over to his side. Like EndSARS, the “Obidient movement” is a mass protest against a decadent establishment that slows progress. The youngest among the three leading contestants, Obi promised to bring changes to confront the challenges experienced in many sectors, such as ensuring an economic growth that is connected to productivity.
Some leaders commission art to enhance their status, but others find art being made about them spontaneously by citizens seeking to honor their great qualities. Peter Obi has experienced the latter, being depicted as the icon of a new political consciousness. One of the first such paintings to ride the social media wave was a large wall painting by Bamaiyi Danladi, a muralist based in Kaduna State in Northern Nigeria, showing a smiling Obi. Portraits like that went viral one after the other, increasing Obi’s already viral social media engagements with the citizens.
Chibuike Ifedilichukwu’s made Obedient Rock with strips cut out of discarded aluminium beverage cans to portray Obi in his distinctive simple suit. Ifedilichukwu said, “our ‘political messiah’ will follow the rule of law and order in accordance to the constitution if elected into authority.” His work was made using a simple weaving process, stitched with copper wire; Obi’s head is encircled with a halo typical of the paintings of saints in Christian art. This is to symbolize an uprightness which has survived media scrutiny and shone throughout Obi’s political journey. Chambarlin Ukenedo, a Lagos-based artist, has likewise depicted Obi in a solemn mood with rays of light around his head. These two works speak to the deep reverence and the religious fervor many feel for Obi, a devout Christian in a multi-religious country.
Enugu-based artist Otti Emmanuel Ifeanyi made a portrait using grains of table salt. Obi’s black suit and the work’s black surface provide a contrast for the sprinkled salt, giving the portrait the feel of a black-and-white picture. Speaking about his work, Otti said: “Obi represents the salt of the earth among the present crops of leaders.” Samuel Palmtree Ifeanyichukwu made a painting that shows Obi receiving the national flag from the incumbent president, Muhammadu Buhari, whose tenure will end in May 2023. Obi descends from a heaven-scape paved with gold. Wearing a blue suit emblazoned with his party’s logo and receiving the national flag, he holds a book in his left hand. The book symbolizes Obi’s awareness of the problems within the country and roadmaps toward solving them. A second painting, presented to him at a rally in North-Central Nigeria, shows Obi among the people. Another interesting portrait is a non-fungible token (NFT) listed on the Ethereum blockchain by artist Chuma Anagbado. One of the trending pictures of the presidential election, it shows Obi during one of his many speaking engagements. The work is a black-and-white line drawing framed by the green and red colors of Obi’s party. “It is my contribution to enthrone good governance to save Nigeria,” the artist said.
These citizens’ artworks were all made in support of Obi, yet stemmed from individual volitions to proclaim support for a worthy candidate who promised a selfless service to his people. Obi did not win the presidential election, which is currently under contention. But whatever happens, he will surely be remembered for inspiring a popular creative upsurge among the youth in Nigeria.
Agwu Enekwachi is an artist and culture writer who lives in Abuja.